It’s not often you encounter a product that can shake up the marketplace. The press release may promise something that’s "revolutionary," but that’s rarely the case. With the HP DreamColor LP2480zx 24-inch LCD display, however, the product really could live up to the hype. Based on what I’ve seen, the DreamColor is just what the industry has been looking for. Or nearly so, as nothing is perfect.
This is a first-look review, because at the time of this writing, the monitor wasn’t shipping and wasn’t available for an in-house review. I was, however, able to have some quality hands-on time with it at the DreamWorks studios in Glendale, California. It wasn’t quite the same as loading up your own applications and eyeballing your usual video and graphics files, but I came away impressed with the display’s wide color gamut, image detail in areas that would normally be too dark to evaluate and intelligently designed features.
It was designed by HP in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation. In a nutshell, that’s why this monitor is particularly well suited for post-production. DreamWorks has been in the same boat as everyone else in the industry. If accurate color reproduction is critical to your work, you could either hang on to your old CRT monitor or buy a new color-critical LCD monitor that could cost as much as $23,000.
Over One Billion Served
The DreamColor display has a list price of $3,499. Given the specs, that’s a real bargain. We’re talking about a 30-bit display (10 bits per primary color) that can reproduce more than one billion colors when operating in its native mode. As you might guess, it uses an LED backlight system to achieve this broad color gamut. Significantly, it can handle 97 percent of the DCI-P3 specification, which means you could use this monitor to edit video destined for a digital cinema theater. I spoke with one of the animators at DreamWorks Animation, who said that 97 percent was sufficient for their work (if necessary, you could run the video on a DCI-P3 compliant projector to check that last three percent). It has a 1920 x 1200 native resolution and impressive 178-degree viewing angle.
Another key issue for color-critical work is the monitor’s contrast range. CRTs have been able to provide blacker blacks than LCDs can offer. The DreamColor monitor has a 1000:1 contrast ratio with the black reaching all the way down to 0.05 cd/m2 (versus a maximum white luminance rating of 250 cd/m2). The DreamWorks animators were much more concerned with the dark end of the contrast range because they wanted to emulate a low-light theatrical experience when editing.
DreamWorks will also benefit from the DreamColor’s calibration stability. Currently, they have to recalibrate their CRT monitors after 75 to 100 hours of use, which translates in practical terms to about twice a week. The DreamColor can retain its calibration for 1,000 hours of use, which translates to about twice a year. According to HP, after that 1,000 hours, the luminance level could vary by about one nit. The color and white point parameters would continue to be stable.
The DreamColor has a generous array of video inputs: DVI-I (dual), DisplayPort 1.1, HDMI 1.3, Component (YPbPr), S-Video and Composite. Keep in mind that only the DisplayPort and HDMI interfaces are capable of handling 30-bit color. You’ll also need a graphics card, graphics card driver and software that are 30-bit compatible. Of course, that would be true for any 30-bit monitor you purchase.
Are there any limitations to this monitor? It doesn’t have 120-Hz scanning, which can significantly improve fast-moving video on an LCD display. Both the Sony BVM-L230 ($23,000) and Panasonic BT-LH1760 ($4,500) have 120-Hz scanning. In addition, the DreamColor’s pixel response rate is 6ms (gray to gray), which is good, but not great. That said, I saw no evidence of motion blurring or monitor-induced artifacts when viewing video files. If you work with fast-moving video, such as sports coverage or street documentaries, you should test the monitor with typical video sequences.
The Final Frontier
DreamColor’s onscreen menus also reflect the particular needs of video professionals. The color space presets include sRGB, Adobe RGB, Rec. 601, Rec. 709, DCI-P3 emulation (97 percent) and full gamut. An optional HP DreamColor Advanced Profiling Solution lets you customize the monitor’s color space by defining the parameters for primaries, gamma, white point and luminance. The kit includes a colorimeter and associated software. It should be available in July for less than $500.
The HP DreamColor LP2480zx fills an important price gap for color-critical content creation, especially animation work. Even DreamWorks can’t provide a $23,000 monitor for everyone who works on a project. Given the relatively low price, the DreamColor could also appeal to digital photographers, fashion designers and even magazine publishers. It’s a prime example of the benefits that can follow when you involve advanced users in the design of a highly technical product.
In addition to his reviews for this magazine, contributing editor David English evaluates software and hardware for and Computer Shopper magazine.